After years of speculation, Voltes V Legacy, GMA Network’s live-action TV adaptation of beloved 70s anime Super Electromagnetic Machine Voltes V — better known as Voltes V –– has arrived. The middle chapter in Japan’s classic Robot Romance trilogy (which includes Combattler V and Daimos), the series became a Philippine pop culture legend in 1978 when it was (in)famously banned by the Marcos regime at the height of its popularity with only four episodes left to air. Over four decades later, the series is known as a staple of local anime viewing, having been shown in both English and Filipino on virtually every domestic TV station since 1986.
To drive excitement for their new series, GMA released a film, Voltes V: Legacy – The Cinematic Experience, which condensed the first three weeks’ worth of episodes for screening in local theaters. The result was a box office hit that extended its theatrical run twice, as fans flocked to see the classic anime brought to life. By the time the actual TV series premiered on May 8, excitement was at a fever pitch, trending daily as each new episode was viewed, analyzed, and debated on social media.
8List caught up with Voltes V: Legacy director Mark Reyes to find out how he and his team reimagined the legendary super robot for the 21st century and, through sheer necessity, ended up crafting one of the most ambitious undertakings in Philippine television history.
Building the impossible
“I had the courage of ignorance, and the audacity of youth,” Reyes laughs, when reflecting on [what ended up being] his four-year production process.
Having previously helmed the likes of Encantadia and Beautiful Justice for network GMA, Reyes was no stranger to the rigors of a daily genre series or the requirements of elaborate visual effects, but Voltes V was a property with over four decades of goodwill behind it, not the least of which came from the director himself. Having bonded with his father over the original airings, Reyes was a lifelong fan, and one who couldn’t pass up the chance to bring his passion project to life.
Voltes V, being a star-spanning sci-fi/fantasy space opera, would require production design, costumes, and CGI on an unprecedented scale. Long before any sets were built or actors cast, Reyes was hard at work with Riot Inc. and GMA’s in-house postproduction unit to create the larger-than-life robots, ships, creatures, planets, and environments needed to bring the series to life.
“When I was [already] doing it, and we were having a difficult time, I would turn to my colleagues, and say, ‘Sino ba may kasalanan naghirap tayo nito?!’ They’d all turn to me, and shout, ‘IKAW!’
Okay, moving on…”
Reinventing a classic
Voltes V: Legacy follows the 1977 series’ well-loved narrative of five highly-trained pilots – Steve (Miguel Tanfelix), Big Bert (Matt Lozano), Little Jon (Raphael Landicho), Mark (Radson Flores), and Jamie (Ysabel Ortega) – coming together to protect the Earth from the invading Boazanian Empire, led by the ambitious Prince Zardoz (Martin Del Rosario), along with scientist Zuhl (Epy Quizon), General Draco (Carlo Gonzales), and aide Zandra (Liezel Lopez). Equipped with specialized assault vehicles that combine to form a super electromagnetic robot known as Voltes V, the team serves as Earth’s last line of defense against the alien threat.
While the main storyline is the same, the creative team had to be judicious in what they did or didn’t include. Whether it was a question of logistics, as with the storyline about Mark’s horse (“It’s very kind of difficult to direct a horse,” notes Reyes.) or one of art imitating life (“We chose not to pursue the virus storyline”), respect for the original show was always top of mind.
As per Reyes, “There’s so many touchstones along the way, but I really wanted to pay homage to the animation. I guess the biggest challenge was, how to make it realistic and believable and acceptable because we’re dealing with a cartoon, right?”
Expanding the universe
Having 80 episodes to spread the story across (versus the anime’s 40), worked in the show’s favor, affording the writers a chance to expand on characters and situations introduced in the original anime (such as life under Boazania’s oppressive class system, and several episodes on the Voltes team’s training) while also introducing new elements. As with any adaptation, the changes were ultimately necessary, as, “We knew that the people who’ve watched Voltes V will accept the premise for what it is because it’s what they know. But the new audience, will they accept this, you know, this very ‘Power Rangers’-type of colorful costumes, when you compare it to the very dark Pacific Rim? So we tried to give a backstory to make it clear why these things are happening.”
By far, the most “controversial” addition is the love triangle between Steve, Jamie, and Mark. While certain audience segments were quick to condemn the changes, Reyes is confident that viewers will be satisfied once they see how the storylines play out in context. After all, “It was accepted by (Toei) Japan, and people online were already complaining, but they’re not my only audience — my audience is children and teenagers, I have to cater to all of you. So give it a chance!”
Super robot action!
Human melodrama and romantic subplots notwithstanding, the one area that’s seen near-universal praise — and rightfully so — is Riot Inc.’s CGI presentation of the titular super robot and his gargantuan opponents. They are the main attraction here, and they’ve never looked better, each having been redesigned to reflect modern genre aesthetics while retaining elements of their classic silhouettes and color schemes. Drawing clear inspiration from Pacific Rim, the recent Godzilla films, and a hint of Japanese tokustasu, Legacy’s skyscraper-smashing showdowns are the stuff of fanboy dreams.
This brings us to the volt-in sequence; if ever there was a showcase of everything Reyes and his team has been building up to over the last four years, this would be it. This is what they were born to create, and they deserve every bit of praise they’ve received. Having grown up with repeated viewings of the original, seeing “real”-world versions of the Volt machines assembling under their Japanese theme song (performed here by Julie Anne San Jose) is beyond thrilling to witness. Sure, one still wonders what the monsters are doing while the good guys get their robot together, but trust me: from the moment you hear, “LET’S VOLT IN!” all considerations of logic and reason will be rendered null and void.
According to Reyes, recreating the iconic sequence as closely as possible was among Toei’s non-negotiables, which was perfect, as, “I definitely didn’t want to do an interpretation of Voltes V, I wanted to do Voltes V!”. But he also notes that, aside from the volt-in sequence, and certain other scenes, neither he nor his collaborators were interested in doing a shot-for-shot take on the series, stating, “I selected moments which I felt would be memorable, but the rest of the time, it’s basically the way I think I would interpret a movie in my mind.”
Easter eggs and shoutouts
While the aforementioned famous shots are (sparingly) reenacted, there’s no shortage of easter eggs here, including planets from adjacent anime getting namedropped, and Reyes getting his geek on by addressing aspects of the show that had always bugged him: “When we started, I was thinking — even as a kid way back — they keep screaming, you know? ‘CHAIN KNUCKLES!’, ‘ELECTROMAGNETIC TOP!’ Then I realized, I could put logic into it — it’s voice-activated! So that was something I just thought of when we were doing the gimbal scenes, “Hey, I figured out how we can solve this dilemma — it’s voice-activated, so once they call it out, it happens!!
Aside from the volt-in sequence, the most obvious homages can be found in the opening and closing credits, which recreate key segments of the animated versions, while serving as showcases for the show’s iconic tunes. When asked why the closing theme of “Chichi Wo Motomete (Looking For Father)” has been featured (thus far) without lyrics, as opposed to the opening being presented in all of its bombastic glory, Reyes assured us that there was a reason for this and that the sung version would be revealed in due time. Of course, he also promised that the show’s biggest easter egg wouldn’t be revealed until the very end, which was probably just a tricky way of telling us to watch the show all the way through.
Bad guys and improv
Rigorous planning and previsualization notwithstanding, Reyes and team made sure to leave room for creative improvisation: “Like everything else we shoot in the live-action, there are times I’m like, ‘Oh I found something!’ or, ‘I thought of something!’ so we have to change what we planned in the animation. So long as there’s leeway and we’re not in the final stages of rendering, we will change, we will adapt.”
Performance-wise, Reyes noted that a lot of improv came from the actors themselves, particularly the ones playing the Boazanian villains – “Zuhl wasn’t really a comic relief in the anime, but here you have Epy Quizon, and his foil is Draco. So while Zandra and Zardos are falling in love with each other, I have Draco and Zuhl as my R2-D2 and C-3P0, they’re always arguing, that kind of formula and it worked. And when you have thinking actors, like Epi, Carlo, Martin, and Liezel, it’s so nice. I’m telling you, when you watch the Boazanians, you’re going to love hating them, and you’re going to hate yourself for loving them.”
Assembling the Voltes team
Considering that the majority of the cast hadn’t necessarily grown up with Voltes V, Reyes helped them find their characters of world-saving pilots by taking them to the premiere of Top Gun: Maverick. While shooting, he reinforced their camaraderie by having the core Voltes Team perform their lines live to whichever one of their teammates was shooting in the gimbal-mounted cockpit set. While this meant needing to shoot each cockpit scene a minimum of five times, Reyes credits the technique with building up the cast’s belief in their roles.
“The kids were riding a green machine on a gimbal; if you see the behind-the-scenes, it’s all green! So they had to play with their imagination on what it’s gonna look like. When they finally saw themselves on screen for the first time, when we showed them the first cut of the pilot, that was the first time they saw themselves inside a cockpit with all those heads-up displays that weren’t there, and when they moved, Voltes V moves — they were crying. They were like, you know, overwhelmed and they were like, ‘Oh my God!’”
Finding humanity in the fantastic
“It’s really a give and take between the actors and me and everyone else in the crew on how we’re going to interpret each scene, but the grassroots is, you have to believe in it and it has to be believable. Forget all the costumes, forget all these special effects… it’s the humanity, it’s the story of who you are, of your character that should come across the screen. Some dialogues (the Posi-Negatron!) will really not mean anything. But when you say it, you have to believe that it’s true, that it’s really there.”
Voltes V airs weeknights at 8 pm on GMA, and is livestreamed daily via the official GMA Network Website and YouTube channel, GTV, I Heart Movies, and Pinoy Hits.